Being a program manager isn’t easy. Essentially, it means handling everything other than card issuing, authorization and transaction processing. If it’s not holding money or providing a payment network, the program manager does it: AML (anti-money laundering) compliance, KYC (Know Your Customer), fraud mitigation, marketing, privacy, document review, OFAC compliance, reporting and more.
Again: It isn’t easy.
Perhaps that’s why companies like Cascade found themselves so frustrated working under a program manager. The startup remembers struggling to get its program up and running back in 2011.
“We were at the mercy of the program manager, and they were at the mercy of the processor,” recalled Spencer Schmerling, Cascade founder and CEO.
Schmerling and his team felt there must be a better way. So, in 2014, they decided to become a program manager themselves and take a different approach so that the entire business model did not depend on the processor’s ability to provide services. Cascade wanted to own its destiny, Schmerling said.
Schmerling outlined three main reasons Cascade is different from your typical program manager.
First, the startup knows it can’t execute all pieces of the process with expertise and finesse — but there are other companies who can. So, instead of picking up all the slack themselves, once the processor is in place to do issuing, authorization and transactions, Cascade brings in its suite of service providers and vendors. Schmerling said the company carefully selects partners who are best in their class at services the startup aims to provide.
Second, instead of pushing forward the processor’s APIs, which may be older and inconsistent, Schmerling said the startup has its own suite of modern, RESTful APIs that take advantage of existing protocols and are therefore quicker and easier to integrate.
Third, Schmerling said Cascade made the intentional decision to keep all its customer service in-house, believing that “no one can serve our customers like we can.” When customers call in for help, he said, they’re not happy, and Cascade wants to own the process of turning that around. They even refer to call center employees as their “customer happiness team.”
Schmerling said Cascade started with a vision of what it didn’t want to do and built its business model around that. Then, it built a funnel for startups like itself that also want to take on the difficult process of becoming program managers.
Cascade sets up these startups as clients to get them up and running in less time for less money, then helps them put policies, procedures and personnel in place over time until they’re ready to “graduate” and take on these responsibilities themselves.